Wednesday, March 21, 2007

WCW: More than enough Brawn, not enough Brains

Like Carolina, I've been meaning to write about the reading from 'Death of WCW'. I was never a viewer or fan of WCW, and almost everything I know and have learned has mostly been filtered through the lenses of hindsight and WWE propaganda, but what can you do. After reading excerpts from Bischoff's biography, I actually had a somewhat sympathetic view of the guy, giving him credit for how he turned the company around with his fresh input and doing what had to be done, including raising the production values by taping matches in Disney World. I thought he was smart, and so started reading the tale of WCW's downfall wondering what factors really brought down the once mighty business.

Well, apparently Bischoff lost most of whatever smarts he had when he gained nearly total control of WCW. 'Absolute power corrupts absolutely' as they say (whoever 'they' are, they must watch wrestling). As WCW began to win the rating war, all those creative and groundbreaking ideas that had gotten WCW there kinda.... stopped. That didn't prevent the company from making leaps and bounds in terms of ticket sales and tv ratings, which became almost a personal obsession for Bischoff. The idea seemed to be, take the good stuff of the WWF (talent, writers, production values, etc) and put a sexier, rebellious attitude to it. From the clips I've seen, everything seemed looser, definitely more spontaneous and wild, which was Bischoff's intention. Plus with the WWF's major stars such as Hogan, Randy Savage, Diesel, Razor Ramon, later the Ultimate Warrior (for a delirious few weeks) and others, they had the draw to get people to look, and ten keep looking. It didn't really matter that these guys were in their twilight years, and could barely put on a decent match, because they were the Big Names, and so they were top of the card, all. the. time. One key smart thing WCW did was get some of the hottest, most promising and talented up-and-coming wrestlers from all over the world, including Rey Mysterio, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, the Guererros, and all the Mexican luchadors, that built the WCW mid/under card to such a level of spectacular and technically pleasing matches on a consistent basis. WCW had made some smart moves, were raking in huge profits, and began beating WWF on a weekly basis in the rating wars. Everything was working very well.

So what did Bischoff do? Nothing. Why change a good thing? If Hogan getting put over every night drew money and ratings, why do anything different? If the mid-carders were putting on fantastic matches every night, why push them to top spots when they're making money where they are? And of course, we don't want to upset our real draws, the old fogies who basically make every move and political scheme they deem necessary to keep their status and positions. If all that is working, why do anything different?

Because even if something is good (which WCW was, at least in the beginning), having it every day gets old. You probably wouldn't eat sirloin steak every day if you could, because even something as delicious as steak loses its specialness if you have it all the time. So WCW basically wore itself out. Nothing changed. The big guys always got over, the middle guys always put on great matches, but never got title shots. There was no challenge. The spontaneity of the show degraded into sloppiness. You would think that someone would have decided to shake things up, to give a Benoit or a Jericho a title shot, or to not cow-tow to Hogan's every whim for once. But unfortunately, no one did.

WCW had it all: the talent (good and bad, big and small), the creativity (at first), and the balls to go up against the conglomerate that was WWE. But once they reached the top, they let it slip away. They let the quality of the product slip away as the creative direction was put on hold for Bischoff's, Hogan's, and so many others' personal agendas. The company had more than enough talented individual wrestlers, whom they squandered and then lost to WWE, eg Steve Austin, Benoit and most of the mid-carders who finally got the recognition and pushes they deserved. Under threat from WCW, the WWE was able to use this new talent to evolve, change the product in accordance with their fans wishes, and was able to trump WCW as they failed to evolve. All those smart, creative people disappeared: they had been replaced with selfish people who cared more about personal agendas and obsessions instead of the quality of the product.


Sam Ford said...

Deirdre, I think your take on WCW was quite astute, and you are probably right that the ratings obsession and Eric's arrogance got in the way. The rise and fall of WCW is just such a fascinating story from a business sense.

I've been meaning to share this with everyone for a while, and I'll just do so here in case I forget. With all of Ole's stories and The Death of WCW, I don't know if I ever mentioned it. In 1991 or so, before Bischoff took over, Turner decided that it would try to become more politically correct and would stop referring to reporters and events covering news outside of the U.S. as "foreign news" or "foreign correspondent." Instead they would use the word "international."

The edict went out throughout Turner that the word "foreign" would no longer appear on Turner broadcasts and that "international" would always be used instead.

Go back and watch those old broadcasts and be amazed when you hear a commentator refer to a steel chair as guessed it..."international object."

If their intent was to quit angering people outside the U.S. by calling them "foreign," implying that they are alien or do not belong, I don't think the answer would be to call a weapon brought into the ring "international."

I may have shared that with you before, but it really makes me shake my head...

By the way, your sirloin steak comment sounded like it came straight from the mouth of Blassie.

Peter "The Malcontent" Rauch said...

Never having any firsthand experience with WCW, I was amazed and amused with how badly it seemed to be managed following its initial burst to prominence. Bischoff and Hogan stand out, but really, it seems like you could throw a stone and hit someone who made a really stupid decision.

Death of the WCW laid out the formula perfectly: when it's good, fans overlook flaws, and people let the product stagnate. It happens in every media form, yet people always seem surprised.